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Is Yucca Enough?

Scenarios depict possible nuclear waste futures.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2008

mixes imply alternative total green-house gas emissions (see Figure 2) .

Each scenario contains a level of HLW created as a result of greater or lesser reliance on nuclear technology, consistent with that scenario. Note that the Technology Evolution case reaches an upper range of around 225,000 tons of HLW by 2050; while the Global Turmoil case with much lower use of nuclear generation, creates about 125,000 tons of HLW over the same time period (see Figure 3) . This translates to an upper bound of over three-Yucca Mountains equivalents and a little less than two Yucca Mountain equivalents in the Global Turmoil case at the currently legislated capacity of 70,000 metric tons.

A further evaluation of the Technology Evolution case illustrates plausible transitions of HLW from cooling pool to dry cask to permanent repository. If interim-storage facilities were developed, they presumably would displace some portion of the on-site dry cask shown in the graph. Due to the currently established disposal rate at Yucca Mountain, the 70,000 metric ton limit will be reached around 2046. In fact, because the disposal rate is the binding constraint in this analysis, the same conclusion holds in all scenarios: There is not enough current capacity at Yucca Mountain. However, if it opened for disposal, there would be sufficient capacity at Yucca Mountain to last almost to mid-century.

Thus, a de facto robust strategy emerges across the four scenarios. The United States can maximize its use of cooling pools and dry casks with minimal safety impacts, while moving forward with Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository. This decades-long timeframe permits greater opportunity for off-ramps from this strategy. Options include extending the original Yucca Mountain capacity beyond 70,000 metric tons, international consolidation of nuclear waste, establishment of an alternative disposal technology such as deep borehole and technology breakthroughs achieved by one or more renewable technologies.



1. von Hippel, Frank, “Rethinking Nuclear Fuel Recycling,” Scientific American , New York, May 2008.

2. Rogers, Kenneth A., et al, “On-site Storage,” Calculated Risks: Highly Radioactive Waste and Homeland Security , Ashgate Publishing, Burlington, 2007.

3. MIT Nuclear Study Committee, The Future of Nuclear Power, An Interdisciplinary MIT Study , Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, 2003.

4. Strategy Advisors, “Detailed Look at the Four Global Energy Horizon Scenarios,” Scenarios of the Global Energy Future, Ventyx, Columbus, 2007.